Suffering and Redemption

Pablo Picasso. Crucifixion (1930).

I have never believed in “redemptive suffering” as a means of justifying either pain or God. I still do not. There is no theological excuse for the pain inflicted upon human and other creatures by human beings. There is no justification, no spiritual reason, why forces of nature such as hurricanes and viruses hurt us or why some of us get hit by cars or lost when planes crash. The death of my life-loving father was not good, nor was death of my friend Dianna, nor the agony of her spouse and family. From a theological perspective, whether pastoral or ethical, suffering is not good for us.

Although the sacred Spirit in no way “wills” or sets us up for suffering, all living creatures do suffer. In these last years, scarred by AIDS, by the dominant culture of greed and violence, and by personal loss and pain, I have come to see more distinctly the vital link between the healing process (traditionally the prerogative of religious and medical traditions) and the work of liberation (assumed to be the business of revolutionary movements for justice).

The link is in the commitment of those who suffer and of those in solidarity with them to make no peace with whatever injustice or abuse is causing or contributing to their suffering, and in their commitment to celebrate the goodness and power in our relationships with one another — especially, in these moments, with those who suffer. To struggle against the conditions that make for or exacerbate suffering, and to do so with compassion — “suffering with” one another — is how we find redemption in suffering. To realize the sacred power in our relationships with one another, and to contend against the forces that threaten to damage and destroy us, bears luminous witness to the goodness and power of God. In the midst of suffering, we weave our redemption out of solidarity and compassion, struggle and hope. In this way, we participate in the redemption of God.

-Carter Heyward, The Power of God-With-Us

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